It's Not Just IBM in This Crystal Ball

IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) recently released its second annual "Next Five in Five" -- a list of five innovations that it claims could change the way people work, live, and play over the next five years. I agree that they have potential, and Big Blue's forward thinking is one reason I selected the company as the best blue chip of 2007 last year, but IBM wouldn't be the only company to profit from these innovations.

Trend No. 1: Easy to go green
Given the heightened interest in clean tech this year and all the activity in this field, IBM's "easy to be green" prediction is hardly bold. Nevertheless, the company makes a strong case that as data begins to run through electrical wires, all household appliances will eventually be directly connected to a "smart grid," which will allow consumers to better control and limit energy use. IBM is clearly positioned to benefit from this trend; but so, too, are companies such as EnerNOC (Nasdaq: ENOC  ) and Comverge, which also provide demand response and energy management solutions to commercial and industrial customers.

Trend No. 2: A safer way to drive
IBM believes continued advances in GPS, sensor, and computer technology will help traffic flow, reduce congestion, cut down on pollution, and curb accidents. While this is undoubtedly true, the automotive industry might go even further. Recently, General Motors unveiled some really cool advances in the field of shape-shifting materials, and Toyota (NYSE: TM  ) announced it was teaming up with the inventor of Nintendo's "Brain Age" on brain-monitoring technology to help seniors drive more safely.

Combine these advances with the startling progress companies such as Oshkosh Truck (NYSE: OSK  ) are making in the field of robotically driven automobiles, and it's safe to say that your next car definitely won't resemble your parents' Oldsmobile.

Trend No. 3: Know what you eat
Dole Food Company used RFID technology to successfully limit the distribution of lettuce tainted by E. coli. As RFID technology continues to advance, you can expect IBM's global consulting business to work more closely with its customers to better understand and utilize this data. The company will also continue to work with RFID manufacturers such as Impinj to lower the cost of RFID technology as well as find new ways to collect even more information about where and how our food is grown, processed, transported, and stored.

Trend No. 4: Cell phone as personal assistant
In the near future, IBM predicts your phone will be used to do everything from buying items in a grocery store to snapping a photo of shoes you see someone wearing on the street and then searching the Internet for the nearest store selling those shoes.

Like the trend about energy, this vision is already happening. Consumers in Japan now regularly use their cell phones to scan the wrappers of McDonald's hamburgers for health information, and earlier this year, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) announced a $10 million contest to entice people to create new applications for cell phones. It's only a matter of time before your phone becomes the modern-day equivalent of a Swiss Army knife.

Trend No. 5: "Super senses" to better diagnose and treat you
IBM has already made progress in creating a "personal avatar" -- a digital representation of a person's health-care information. The system is designed to allow medical professionals to review a patient's complete health history on a portable computer and in a single glance. The company is right to believe this is just the beginning for this field, because Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) and Hewlett-Packard are looking to design computer chips that can be embedded directly in the body, and software companies such as Microsoft are busy figuring out better ways to process and search for all of this health-care information.

Beyond five years
Investing is a long-term game, and unless you're planning to retire in the next five years, each of IBM's five trends offers some food for thought. Big Blue itself is a safe, conservative way to play these opportunities. But if you dive into each area, there are plenty of other companies also poised to exploit these trends.

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